This interest of mine started many years ago when I read an essay by Alan Watts titled  Wealth Versus Money. In this essay he speaks of how the human race has a strong tendency to confuse abstract symbols with the reality they represent. Money being a case in point. I love this analogy he makes comparing the Great Depression to a building site. (It is very aplicable to our current world situation)

Remember the Great Depression of the thirties? One day there was a flourishing consumer economy, with everyone on the up-and-up; and the next unemployment, poverty and breadlines. The physical resources of the country – the brain, brawn and raw materials – were in no way depleted, but there was a sudden absence of money, a so called financial slump. Complex reasons for this kind of disaster can be elaborated at leangth by experts on banking and high finance who cannot see the forest for the trees. But it was just as if someone had come to work on building a house, and on the morning of the Depression, the boss had said; “Sorry baby, but we can’t build today. No inches.” “Whadaya mean no inches? We got wood. We got metal. We even got tape measures!”  “Yeah but you don’t understand business. We been using too many inches and there’s just no more to go round.”

A few years later people were saying that Germany couldn’t possibly equip a vast army and wage a war, because it didn’t have enough gold.

What wasn’t understood then, and still isn’t really understood today, is that the reality of money is of the same type as the reality of centimeters, grams, hours and lines of longitude. Money is a way of measuring wealth but is not wealth in in itself.

But this ingrained and archaic confusion of money with wealth is now the main reason we are are not going ahead full tilt with the development of our technological  genius for the production of more than adequate food, clothing, housing and utilities for every person on earth.

Since then I have felt that we as a civilization have a giant blind spot when it comes to money and work. We have the possibility of ending  the struggle with survival that has plagued us throughout history – not tomorrow but now.

Two other famous essays that speak of this possibility are JM Keynes’ essay Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren and Bertrand Russell’s In Praise of Idleness. Both were written in the early 1930’s and both speak of the  economic utopia that is all but at our doorstep.

I remember when I was young, people would say that as our technology develops our working hours will decrease and that by the end of the century there will be a dramatic change in work patterns. I occasionally hear people say “oh it didn’t happen.” But very rarely do people question why.

The essay that this blog is named after was written in the early 1990’s and published in a small journal I used to edit called Economics for the Global Good (EGG)

Michael Berney


2 responses

18 08 2009
Will Jackson

Hallo Michael

Interesting blog. I agree with your thesis – that the technical means exists to allow very many people to live fulfilling lives with less paid work. However, where does this leave education? I worked as a teacher (in East London UK) – a very poor area, crime, drugs, vandalism and neglect. People need to be educated in order to use their lives in a meaningful happy and productive way. How can this be achieved? At present, as I see it, extremes of income inequality are only set to get worse, within countries and between countries. A big question, I know.



20 08 2009

My point isn’t only to have free time for our personal fulfillment, although I think there is an important place for more free time to de-stress ourselves as well as to enjoy this remarkable world we find ourselves in. I feel that one of the greatest opportunities of all this extra time is that we can direct it to things that really need addressing – things such as ending poverty and the feelings of meaninglessness that pervade our world – these seem to me to be root causes of violence and drug abuse.

To me a transformation of education would be central in a world like this, changing from an emphasis on training for career/earning power to education for fulfillment in life.

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